I’ve already talked about how powerful yoga has been for me in terms of eating disorder recovery however, it doesn’t just seem to be myself who’s reaping the benefits as there is now more scientific evidence than ever before that yoga truly does benefit both the body and mind. Yoga is a multi functional tool and while it may increase flexibility, there really is so much more to it. In order to share my passion of yoga and to motivate more people to get onto their mats, I’ve rounded up 10 benefits of yoga (although they are many more) to turn those skeptics into yoga fanatics.
- Increased flexibility Probably one of the most obvious benefits of yoga, but that doesn’t make it any less important! The poses that you may find hard during your first practise, you’ll find that a week or two later you can enter into with ease. Being flexible provides the body with a range of benefits such as less back pain, an increased range of motion, injury prevention, improved circulation and better posture.
- Increased muscle strength The common perception of yoga is that it simply involves sitting still but, that couldn’t be more wrong. You don’t have to go to the gym and lift weights to build muscle as yoga uses your own body weight in order to increase strength and build muscle whilst also conditioning your body – meaning that you’ll be less prone to injuries as both flexibility and strength are improved. Poses such as warrior, tree, plank and bridge are all particularly great at building muscle.
- Improved mood It’s common knowledge that exercise in general helps to improve your mood and yoga is no exception to this. It has been proven that practising mindfulness through yoga and meditation leads to higher levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone) and those who have been practising yoga for long periods of the time have shown to have more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment.
- Improved sleep When practised regularly, yoga has been proven to help combat insomnia and other sleep related issues. There are sequences designed specifically to help with sleep, incorporating poses such as ‘happy baby’ in order to release tension from the hip joints where it is thought that a lot of our daily tension and stress is stored.
- Boosts immunity An irregularity in the body affects the mind, just as restlessness in the mind can present itself as an ailment in the body. The breath and meditation used in yoga helps to massage organs and strengthen muscles whilst also releasing stress and improving immunity. It has also been proven that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level and these changes occur whilst you’re still on the mat! This is best achieved through sun salutations as blood begins to circulate through the whole of your body.
- Increased self-esteem Yoga helps to balance both your physical and mental health, leading to improved confidence and better self-esteem. The reason that people start yoga, is often not the reason why they continue to stay; new practitioners may initially be attracted to yoga as a way to achieve the type of body they want, but what you’ll quickly realize is that there’s a lot more to the practice than sculpting those abs – and in fact, this isn’t the main objective at all. For those who are recovering from an eating disorder or struggling with body image issues, yoga can be a great way to stay active without focusing on competition or calorie-burning as the focused is placed onto the mental aspects, rather than the physical.
- Increased energy Practising yoga first thing in the morning is a great way to encourage blood flow, leaving your body feeling energised and your mind ready to start the day. Yoga is also a useful tool throughout the day as moving between multiple tasks can sometimes be quite exhausting and so allowing yourself a 10-minute yoga break has immense benefits; leaving you refreshed and recharged in the middle of a hectic day. Backbends are known to be particularly energising, as are mood-boosting inversions.
- Stress relief A few minutes of yoga during the day can be a great way to get rid of stress that accumulates daily – in both the body and mind. Yoga postures, pranayama and meditation are effective techniques to release stress. Stress and body images issues are often a vicious cycle; stress leads us to become more self-critical about our weight and eating habits, and in turn, a preoccupation with food, exercise and physical appearance brings more stress into our lives. Not only can yoga help promote self-acceptance, but it’s also been proven to relieve stress.
- Aids digestion They say that our gut is our second brain and it’s no surprise, considering that our bodies are made up more of bacteria than cells! Feeling bloated will have negative impacts on our mental health and yoga can be a good way to relieve this. Plus, good digestion is crucial for our bodies to properly absorb the nutrients from our food. Digestion targeted flows work on massaging the internal organs through a number of different poses such as twists – which are particularly good at releasing toxins from the body, or even by simply massaging your stomach in a clockwise motion.
- Helps you to focus Our minds are constantly ticking away; either dwelling on the past or stressing out about the future. Yoga helps to create awareness and brings the mind back to the present moment, where it can stay happy and focused. This leads to improved mental health, as it provides you with time to de-stress and therefore lead a happier life.
If all of that doesn’t persuade you to roll out your mat, then I don’t know what will! I hope I’ve inspired you to try yoga for yourself and keep your eyes peeled for my yoga routine and favourite videos!